Secrets of Green Cultures Part 1: The Nabataeans, Water Warriors

nabatean-wellImagine a culture that could teach today’s society a thing or two about respecting and harvesting the free, natural resource of water. The Nabataeans were green before their time. They followed a mission of ingenuity while other tribes relied on Nature’s unpredictable handouts.

They were a secretive bunch making sure their means of trade transport, as well as what they transported, be kept on the down-low. Mainly moving such wares as frankincense, myrrh and spices, this tribe of over 10,000 warriors and an estimated total population of approximately 30,000 had the unique ability to collect, save and distribute rare, scant rainwater in the middle of one of the driest places on earth.

They created and built secret designs for miles of sophisticated pipelines, catchment circles and topsoil collection, singlehandedly fueling their bargaining power through the sale of water. While living in the extremely arid desert terrain of the Arabia Felix (late 7th Century BC) , now known as Yemen, water was treated as a valuable commodity. The Nabataeans would hide hundreds of cisterns in underground waterways with clues to their whereabouts only known to them. These secret waterways consisted of ceramic pipelines and reservoirs that used gravity feed and inverted siphons, closed off dams for rainy season collection, and stone terraces or circles that slowed rainwater runoff to trap topsoil for irrigation feeding. Little did they know that they were perpetuating one of the greenest practices available. Collecting and filtering rainwater for personal use is one of the great shortfalls of modern civilization. Like the Nabataeans, every home should follow their lead for self-sustainability rather than blind reliance.

Diodorus Siculus, ancient Greek historian, commented on Nabataea ingenuity:

“They take refuge in the desert using this as a fortress; for it lacks water and cannot be crossed by others, but to them alone, since they have prepared subterranean reservoirs lined with stucco, it furnishes safety.

What We Learned

rain-barrelUnfortunately, the unique rainwater catchment labyrinth that the Nabataeans created has not, for the most part, perpetuated modern man to do the same. Yet now that water is on the precipice of a dangerous decline, rainwater catchment is slowly moving from a conscious green effort to a necessity. This Earth Day, re-establish your water needs and add a rain barrel or two to your lifestyle. If you already have a rain barrel then step it up and retro-fit your roof, ground layout or whatever else can be done to transfer this free resource right into your home. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers a detailed manual on conservation, credits, codes and costs of embracing this essential practice that, in the long run, can enable you to be years ahead of the mad rush when water scarcity becomes a reality. Take it from the Nabataean culture as they practiced foresight and forethought outdoing their struggling neighbors. It is learning from history that enables future generations to survive what is essentially the same challenges tackled in the past that need to be addressed today.

Next up: Secrets of Green Cultures: Part II, How Ancient Civilizations Harnessed Energy.

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